We woke just on 5.00am to the sound of tent zips and the throb of car engines. We were about to join the throng of tourists setting out to watch the sun rise over Uluru. While we both dislike the tourist trail, this is something so iconic and unique to Australia that we just couldn’t miss it.
We jumped on the MT07 (me as a pillion – mutter mutter) and headed to the purpose built “sunrise viewing platform” (as I said this was the tourist trail!) on the Eastern side of this world famous monolith. There we joined hundreds of excited (or grumpy or even indifferent) tourists who arrived in cars, camper vans and coaches, dads carrying not-yet-awake children and everyone chatting in a myriad of languages.
As the sun appeared over the horizon, the rock did what is has done for eons, changing colour from a deep brown to ocre red. Much to the delight of the watching masses. Cameras, iPhone, iPads, tablets, selfie sticks and other technical gadgetry whirred, clicked and beeped. False camera shutter sounds echoed through the desert dawn as every millisecond was recorded. Uluru delivered as promised and nobody left disappointed.
After our habitual morning coffee back at the campsite we packed up our belongings and hit the road. Today’s destination: South Australia. Where exactly in SA we didn’t know; we would wait to see what the road had in store for us and just ride until we felt like stopping (and until he flies were all but gone!). That is the absolute beauty about camping. The options for “accommodation” are endless and you don’t have to push to get to any particular destination.
We backtracked East along the Lassiter Highway stopping for fuel at Mt Ebenezer (for the MT) and Erldunda (for the Beema) which is at the intersection of the Lassiter and Stuart Highways. From there we headed south and reached the South Australian border after just 93km. Woohoo! Our third border crossing for the trip. We started in NSW 11 days ago and after 5,000km had visited two other States and the NT. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself!
The landscape today was fairly barren and dry with occasional scrub forests adding some greenery to the predominantly red and brown pallet. Random high-ridged plateaus would occasionally rise from the flat arid plains and dry and dusty river beds meandered through the even drier fields.
Our shadows lengthened as the sun began to sink and the red bitumen road blended in with the surrounding red dirt. This was cattle country and signs warned of “animals on the road”, “stock crossing” and “cows…look!”. We passed a few signs warning of Kangaroo, however remain surprised at the complete lack of Roos anywhere…dead or alive.
Trying to find a campsite away from the road was a challenge as endless barbed wire fences and locked gates kept cattle in and visitors out.
At around 6.40pm we pulled off the road and made camp, battling the last flies of the day until the sun had gone down completely.
No need for head torches tonight as our campsite is bathed in soft, opaque light from the blood moon. We can barely see stars as the sky is lit up like a huge city is to our East.
We sip hot chilli chocolate and reflect on yet another adventure filled day.
It doesn’t get better than this.
We were out of bed at 5.30 am to beat the flies and were treated to a gorgeous sunrise so it was well worth the effort. The fence line stopped after 800m of riding and the landscape opened up with perfect campsites everywhere – typical! If we’d just ridden a couple more minutes …
Our approach to Coober Pedy was heralded by huge warning signs showing doomed stick figures falling down mine shafts in assorted helpless poses and piles of opal mine tailings that looked like the handy work of enormous moles.
Coober Pedy has a surreal Mad Max feel to it where hundreds, maybe thousands of independent opal miners toil away underground looking for ‘the Big One’. That one find that will make them rich beyond their dreams. The town is a dusty brown place with swanky (well swanky for here) hotels jostling with tin shacks, mining equipment scrap yards and small shops flogging opals.
One feature of CP are underground cafes, restaurants and even hotels and hostels. It can get up to 50 degrees C here in the hot season so this is a far more practical alternative to a tin shed. Plus there is no shortage of ‘space’ to expand your digs, as they are locally called.
The ethnic roots of the place is reflected in eateries with Greek taverna jostling with Chinese restaurants, Italian bistros and Aussie take away joints.
Heading south the flat treeless plains spread far into the distance. Much of this area is Commonwealth property having been used as a rocket testing range during the Cold War and the infamous British A Bomb tests at Maralinga and Emu in the 50s and 60s.
A man was pushing a pram loaded with his worldly possessions down the remote highway, clearly in his element. As he waved us by cheerily we wondered what his story was.
We roll through the amazing landscape for over 350km, stopping at road houses for fuel, chatting with locals and other motorcyclists. Massive road trains parked in football field sized car parks outside fuel stops, drivers chomping down food and drinking tea before climbing back into their rigs and roaring off in a cloud of dust and flies.
Richard even got into the swing of the trucking life…
We spent some time walking on one of the amazing salt pans South Australia is so famous for, Lake Hart. It was like being on a frozen lake, the sun glaring off the surface. Under the salt crust in the mud are billions of frogs, insects and fish waiting for the rain to come so they can explode into their short frenetic lives only to die and their young to sink back into the mud waiting to repeat the cycle.
Woomera was an important rocket and missile testing facility during the Cold War, the identical 1950’s institutional-style houses and buildings a testimonial to its Cold War past. The museum here describes its short but exciting history and talks of the 4,000 missiles fired here – with fantastic names like Blue Streak, Thunderbird and Bloodhound. Scant mention is made of the A Bomb tests and the massive impact it had on local Aboriginal people, not to mention them being torn out of their Country which was then contaminated with radioactive fallout. We have a lot to answer for for those times and others.
From Woomera we blasted south into the dusk for a final ride to Port Augusta. The cold Southerly hit us about 100km from the coast reminding us we were back near the sea for the first time. Our trip through the hot red dirt of Central Australia was at an end and I was missing it already.
Richard had warned me about Port Augusta. While it may be an industrial cross-road (all roads in southern Australia lead to and from Port Augusta!), it offers little else.
It remains a great place to pass through with tourist hotels and services on one side of the river and ‘the rest’ on the other. And it is impossible to get a coffee before 8am (although one guy told us the local servo does a pretty good brew – erk!). When we finally found an open cafe, the service was almost as average as the coffee. But the home made banana cake was delicious!
As we headed south out of town a rusting industrial plant and tidal mud flats bid us farewell. We couldn’t get out of Port Augusta fast enough.
Riding on busy, semi-urban roads after the endless straights of the outback was a real shock. Suddenly traffic lights, speed cameras, intersections and traffic (yes traffic!) was everywhere. Plus it’s a busy industrial area so trucks hauling all sorts of stuff roared around us, though not as intimidating as our now familiar 52 meter road trains. Our dusty bikes seemed out of place.
After passing the industrial smelter town of Port Pirie (Richard had visited there years ago when he was a public health officer) we headed east along the Goyder Highway to the small village of Chrystal Brook and onto Burra. Chrystal Brook is a pretty place but clearly dying. Many shops are closed and young people are thin on the ground. Our coffee in the local ‘cafe’ was a shocker and the only food in the place apart from coca cola and chewing gum were a couple of stale pies on the counter. Great.
What blew us away was the green countryside. We were now in the wheat belt with green irrigated fields stretching off as far as the eye can see. Contrast this with the red, barren, rock-strewn desert used for atom bomb tests we stood in yesterday, it was a culture shock. But this is Australia.
Burra was a non entity and we couldn’t find a service station to get fuel, but as we always carry a 5 litre reserve it wasn’t a drama. We were able – for the first time in over a week – to make lunch outside as there weren’t a billion flies to harass us.
Richard has lunch with a swig of wine straight from the bottle, tradition he acquired motorbike touring in Europe last year. I can’t drink as I’m still on my P plates – bastard!
We were heading east towards Victoria and into the low mallee forest in this rich land. The Murray River began winding its course to our right and vineyards sprang up, irrigated by this iconic river under such stress from so many farms and cities drawing from it. The road twisted and turned through the landscape – a gorgeous ride in the cool air. A quick and much needed fuel stop in Morgan plus an interesting interaction with a couple of locals who don’t appear to have a full complement of chromosomes launched us off to Renmark.
Renmark nests in a bend of the Murray and was a huge port in the days when the river was a transport route for inland Australia. It still supports agriculture in the area ranging from orchards, wine producers and nut growing.
The Renmark hotel sits by the river and is a local fixture. Coffeed up we powered East towards the Victorian border just 20min away. State number four in the bag – Woohoo!
We camped right on the border in a perfect spot in the Murray-Sunset National Park. Much cooler here and the stars are incredible. After wolfing down sweet pumpkin soup, pesto pasta and pine nuts and a great Clare Valley shiraz (which we rode through today) our day was done.